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Opinion: The death of cinema? – “The pandemic has changed how we interact with media”

This week’s industry opinion comes from Greta Bisetto Donelan, director of content at Generation Media and an experienced media professional with in-depth knowledge of broadcast, digital strategy and audience behaviour.

The COVID-19 emergency is changing the way we consume media, with cinema as the main “casualty” within the international media landscape. The question is: are these changes here to stay?

Some trends observed in China are offering some interesting clues. Nobody can tell when cinemas will reopen in the UK and Europe in general, so we’re looking at China, the only country where a post COVID-19 life seems to be finally resuming, for an indication.

The health emergency forced China to close its cinemas around New Year’s Eve, which translated into a loss of approximately US$2bn at Box Office. Since then, the Chinese audience has satisfied its appetite with streaming services like Baidu, Tencent, or Alibaba.

Some bespoke local research indicates that, while nearly all (97 per cent) of the people surveyed have not missed out on movies while in quarantine or lockdown, they have missed the cinema experience, with more than half being keener than they were before COVID-19 to watch films again in theatres.

China was also the first place to witness the traditional movie window strategy become inverted: streaming services first, cinema (maybe?) later. In Europe we are registering similar trends, with studios releasing straight to Netflix or Amazon Prime, bypassing cinema. While this would have ticked some boxes from a financial standpoint, no streaming service can guarantee the level of exposure, the status and the experience of a theatrical release, not to mention the several retail partnerships that would have been compromised by this kind of release strategy.

Several European territories are seeing streaming services capitalise on a higher viewership linked to enforced lockdowns, and we are seeing change now in consumer content consumption. But will these changes become permanent after the pandemic? Or will people be ready to return to the comfort of their previous normality and embrace experiences that will allow for social interaction?

We at Generation Media are forward looking and feeling optimistic. Humans after all are social beings who crave interaction and shared experiences, and we are working with our clients on building stellar cinema, events and experiential roll outs, for when life returns.

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